Fixing Portland: A Special Report
Solutions for Portland and Other US Cities
Below is a letter that I wrote to the Portland City Council. Portland has been in the news these past several months and many of the images show run down streets, out of control homelessness, trash, rioting, vandalism, and more. Unfortunately, much of what has been shown is true. Portland has serious problems. As someone who visits Portland daily, I have ideas on how to solve some of the biggest problems.
This is a good read for anyone because other US cities have many of these same problems.
To: Portland City Council
Subject: Evergreen Initiative Proposal
Introduction: My name is Alderin Ordell. I am a resident of Beaverton but, as a part-time Lyft driver, I spend twenty hours a week driving all around the Portland area. Every day I drive past homeless people in crisis, boarded-up businesses, and through dilapidated neighborhoods. During the summer, I drove people to and from the ongoing protests and made it a point to talk to each of them.
When you combine my driving experience, an advanced degree in Psychology, many years as a counselor and non-profit volunteer, the novels I’ve written, and my social-justice blog, I offer a unique perspective on the ills that plague Portland.
The following addresses some of the main problems I’ve identified and offers humanistically-based solutions designed to ease tensions and strengthen community. I suggest creating a plan based on these solutions called something like THE EVERGREEN INITIATIVE. Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? Like Roy Orbison used to sing, “When love is evergreen, it will last through the summer and winter too!”
This city needs love. Love that’s evergreen.
The Portland Protests – Untapped Talent
I think last year’s weeks and weeks of protests have shown that Portland is full of young leaders without a role. Before I identity problems and solutions, I first want to direct your attention to the huge untapped resources at your disposal – talent, passion, and ability.
As I drove people around for Lyft during the protests, I saw all kinds of passionate and capable people giving speeches, serving as medics, patrolling around on bicycles to keep motorists safe, etc. Contrary to how the media likes to portray those protests, I thought they were mostly well organized. Had the media covered them correctly, there should have been headlines every day from the various speakers and the points that they were making. But the headlines were always the vandalism that happened well after the protests were done. That’s an issue with corporately owned media, often connected to think tanks trying to perpetuate a social agenda. That’s not my point here. You can read my book and blog for more on that.
My point is that here’s an immense amount of talent throughout Portland. Passionate individuals that need to be given leadership roles. These individuals should be put in charge of various citizen groups for safety, outreach, medical care, and all the other needs of Portland communities.
From my perspective, you have talent and capability and you have need. Right now there is not a solid bridge between the two. You have an immense amount of suffering and an immense amount of restless spirit. If you direct the restless spirit into the task of easing the suffering, everything can get better!
This outreach will improve race relationships in Portland as well by putting more minorities into leadership roles. Under the umbrella of the Evergreen Initiative, these hires can be fed to various media outlets in a very palpable and exciting way, with plenty of photo ops for various Portland leaders (you guys).
As you read the following problems and solutions, keep in mind the young and passionate leaders you could hire to lead the new programs.
Problem 1: Homeless Population, People Suffering on the Streets
* A Large Care Facility
* Work for Housing and Food Programs
* Designated Homeless Areas
Recently, I heard on the news that a new task force has been assembled to respond to 9-1-1 calls from the homeless population. Mayor Ted wheeler seemed very excited about this during his speech. This is NOT a solution.
Just yesterday, I saw a woman dancing near a crosswalk. Every few seconds she would stop, slap herself in the face, and start the dance over again. She was thin, disheveled, self-abusive and in obvious crisis. She’s not going to call 9-1-1. By the time you read this, she may be dead.
This woman was only one of many people I saw in crisis yesterday. I saw a man walking with his clothes so torn and tattered, they barely clung to his body. It was about 35 degrees at the time. Then, I saw a woman suddenly stop, brush away some dirt on the sidewalk, and fall down and seem to pass out. I saw many homeless “camps” full of trash, with occupants clearly hoarding. Meanwhile, people I’ve given rides to recently have told me they often walk around discarded needles in Portland, especially around China Town.
My point is there isn’t a single person who is homeless and camped out on the streets of Portland or nearby natural areas who is there for good reasons. They could be mentally ill, they could have a drug problem, they could be suffering post-traumatic stress from a domestic violence incident, escaping child abuse, or other terrible reasons. At the very least, Portland’s homeless population is in dire straits unable to maintain a job and provide safe and adequate housing for themselves. That means…
Every single person on the streets needs help!
This is not a matter of assembling a task force to respond to 9-1-1 calls.
It’s also not enough to provide cold weather shelters and free meals and supplies. Much more needs to be done!
Solution 1: A Homeless Care Center Campus
There is a care facility in San Antonio Texas called Haven for Hope. Their mission statement reads:
Haven for Hope and our partners, address the root causes of homelessness by offering programming tailored to the specific needs of the individual. Our approach is person-centered, trauma-informed and recovery-oriented. The goal is to meet individuals where they are and support them as they move toward self-sufficiency.
Haven for Hope has reduced homelessness by 15% and put into motion several programs to treat the remaining population.
From the LA Times: “In seven graduating classes, nearly 3,500 people have progressed from the transitional campus into permanent housing, and 90% retained their homes for at least a year…”
Portland should be the city that builds upon existing successful models like this one and strives to eliminate homelessness by 100%. In my opinion, Portland needs to start by building one of these care centers.
The costs and details probably seem overwhelming. But I think businesses and other organizations will donate and help raise money for such a center once they realize the tremendous economic advantage. Let’s face it, homelessness hurts Portland’s economy in every which way possible. An Evergreen Initiative solution to homelessness, even if a few years down the road, could renew interest in Portland and bring back investors.
I also think that businesses, doctors, psychologists and everyday people would be willing to volunteer at such a care facility. With a big enough spotlight, the community could really rally behind the idea of helping our most needy populations.
The homeless at these facilities can also help maintain these facilities. As they get healthier, they can begin to take up jobs within the facility to help maintain it. This a great way for them to feel a part of our community again. Responsibility builds character and creates direction.
Solution 2: Work for Housing and Food Programs
In addition to a large care facility, I think work programs would also be effective. If done right, I think many people would appreciate the opportunity to get safe housing and nutritious food in exchange for work. This is not just a solution for the homeless, but people nearing homelessness, people in a domestic crisis, etc.
These wouldn’t be forever solutions. The idea is these work programs would help people transition to self-sufficiency.
There’s certainly enough work that needs to be done around Portland and there seem to be plenty of empty buildings that could be converted to housing. Let’s connect the dots!
I see these work programs as serving as a next step for those in the care facility. Meaning, once you graduate the care facility you go into the work program. Once you graduate from the work program, you enter into self-sufficiency.
Solution 3: Designated Homeless Areas
It’s not safe for homeless people to camp anywhere in Portland. They deserve better. They deserve designated homeless zones that are secured by police and have food and supplies for them to use and professionals to monitor their health and well-being. This will keep the streets of Portland cleaner and safer and provide the beginnings of a comprehensive homeless solution.
Problem 2: Poor, Unsafe Neighborhoods
* Citizen-Led Task Forces
* Community Mentoring and Skill Building Programs
It isn’t just the homeless that are in desperate need in Portland. When I drive around North and East Portland, especially areas along Powell Avenue and Division Street, I’ve noticed that people who are housed are also struggling tremendously. These neighborhoods are unsafe. They are filthy. The schools are rundown and inadequate. The parks are filthy. There’s a feeling of unease in the air, like something bad could happen at any moment.
When I was stopped at red light along Powell Avenue in the middle of a Tuesday, I suddenly saw a white SUV run over a pedestrian and then turn in front of me. The female driver nearly hit me and then crashed into a car making a left. Then she continued on hitting several more vehicles. She screamed obscenities and flipped off every one she hit. I followed her up Powell while calling 9-1-1 and gave police a full description of what was happening.
Solution 1: Citizen-Led Task Forces
To help these areas of town, I propose expanding the citizen neighborhood responsibility model. This is where safety and sanitary citizen task forces are formed and assigned to take care of troubled neighborhoods.
These citizen task forces work closely with the city to clean up neighborhoods and report unsafe situations. Their presence alone has significantly reduced crime and other problems in other cities.
There is a general disconnect between communities members and the problems within those communities. Our society is designed where community members vote for leaders, pay their taxes, complain about problems, and then expect those problems to be solved.
The disconnect is very harmful.
The people of Portland need to be at least partially responsible for their own well-being. There are certainly enough able-bodied and mentally fit citizens that can help, as long as they have the right guidance.
Solution 2: Community Mentoring and Skill Building Programs
Beyond citizen task forces, there needs to be more community programs where professional and successful Portlanders mentor at-risk community members. It seems that poor neighborhoods are places people try to leave and never return to. Once someone can afford something better, they move to the suburbs, etc.
This doesn’t help all the people that are left behind!
The solution is that there should be a constant influx of capable community members giving speeches and teaching classes of various skills within at-risk neighborhoods.
The kids need positive adults to look up to. The adults need knowledge and skills that can translate to better employment.
The cost of college is INSANE. Knowledge building and skill training should be free.
Problem 3: Downtown Portland Businesses Boarded Up
* Survey Existing Business Owner, Assess Needs
* Clean Up and Security Patrols
The fact that so many businesses are boarded up should let you know that things are not going well. There is absolutely no way that vandalism should be tolerated. It is not free speech. It is not part of the Black Lives Matter movement or any other movement. Crimes are crimes and should be treated as such. Downtown Portland HAS to be protected.
Other parts of Portland are also in terrible condition. Theft, graffiti, drug deals in business parking lots, prostitution, human trafficking and more are killing businesses and neighborhoods.
I think that the relationship between Portland businesses and Portland government are very damaged. The first step is making a connection again.
Solution 1: Survey and Meet
Portland City Council needs to send representatives to meet with every single business owner and talk to them. Ask them what they need. Make a list of priorities for what needs to be done. Use this information to create a plan of action. These surveys can also include community meetings between business owners and city council members.
Solution 2: Safety and Clean Up
At the very least there needs to be security patrols at night, working with police. They could be citizen-led or a private security group. I actually think the City of Portland owes it to its businesses to hire a private security group to keep watch. The police are too thinly stretched. There needs to be a constant eye keeping watch.
Also, ideally, those who are attacking businesses should be arrested and eventually put to work fixing those businesses. The punishment fits the crime.
Local prisons shouldn’t be a place where people go to rot. There should be programs in place to get more prisoners working on outside community programs. They can gain skills and purpose working in such programs so they are better equipped for success when they leave prison.
Problem: Traffic Deaths, Unsafe Road Conditions
* Reflective tap, blocks on most roads
* Repair streets, potholes, no more “not maintained” streets.
* Signs that illustrate upcoming intersections, especially if they are not four way stop.
* Lyft/Uber loading and unloading zones.
Last year Portland had 55 traffic deaths even though it was a pandemic year. As a Lyft driver, it’s not hard to see why. Portland streets are unsafe. Especially when it is raining. When turning left, many intersections flat out don’t have a guiding line to direct you to the correct lane. This happens a couple times along Interstate avenue. The intersection near Broadway has a giant section of no lines at all where cars constantly drift into the wrong lane. Meanwhile many parts of the city have very dilapidated roads that are difficult to drive on. The lines are faded. Stop signs and lights are hard to see. Some roads aren’t publicly maintained which is absolutely insane. Sometimes I’ll get on a road that is full of potholes or made of mud. In the city!
Solution 1: Reflective Strips, Repainting
In general, I believe that every street in Portland needs reflective strips or bumps. If you go to Vancouver, you’ll notice bright lines and reflective strips on most roads. This alone makes it way safer to drive during weather.
Solution 2: Street Maintenance
Streets also need to be repaved, potholes filled, lines repainted, stop signs and lights fixed so they are more visible, etc. Not investing in our roads is saying that it’s okay people are dying on them.
Solution 3: Intersection Diagrams
I also think there should be more signs indicating upcoming intersections. Some intersections have stop signs one direction, but not the other. How is a driver to know this if there isn’t a diagram before they enter the intersection?
Solution 4: Fix Lane Merges so they are Safer
There is also a horrible lane merge on the 1-5 merge onto 84 going north out of the city. Two lanes suddenly merge into one with virtually no warning and, because of the curve, it is mostly blind. There are many times when lanes just drop off or become a left turn with no warning. More signs and diagrams will help drivers with this.
Solution 5: Lyft and Uber Loading and Unloading Zones
It is very dangerous for us to pick up our passengers in many parts of Portland. There’s no street parking, no places to safely pull over. There needs to be loading/unloading zones throughout Portland for drivers to meet their passengers, much like bus stops. The apps can direct people to these zones where they can wait for their driver, like at the airport, and this will stop all the unsafe loading and unloading that happens.
Solution 6: Get bad drivers off the roads.
There needs to be harsher punishments for traffic violations, including more suspension of drivers licenses. Either you can follow the rules, or you can’t. If you can’t, you shouldn’t be allowed to drive!
I’ve noticed a huge increase in bad, defiant drivers in the past few years. They put everyone’s safety at risk.
Problem: City Finances, Not Enough Revenue
Solution: Tax corporations a higher amount! Seriously! Work with Salem to make it happen. Corporations are not paying enough (or at all), especially after the 2017 Trump tax law. Meanwhile, corporate profits are through the roof!!! They feed off of the people of Oregon, they can pay their fair share.
Problem: Food Scarcity
I heard on the news last week that Kroger had to throw out hundreds of pounds of food because of the power outages caused by the snow storm. They threw it all in the dumpster. When citizens showed up to try to get the food, Portland sent police officers to keep them away from the dumpster telling them that they would be arrested.
Of course the police officers showing up to protect a dumpster instead of helping to distribute the food in a fair and equitable way is a huge problem. I will get to the problems with the police in a second. But my point here is that there is a ton of food wasted every single day in Portland and in surrounding communities.
Solution: Many businesses throw away edible food. Many farms throw away food that doesn’t look quite right. There is definitely enough food out there to feed those who are hungry. Portland just needs to create the right programs to collect this food and distribute it. I know that there are already some non-profits that work with some businesses to do this. But this has to be expanded and run by the city.
Why should food go to waste when so many are hungry?
Problem: Portland Police
There is huge public mistrust of the police. The problem has to do with police unions. Police unions really protect their own. The result is citizen complaints against police are not taken seriously. Most officers that break the law and protocol are not disciplined!
Solution: The first step to fixing the Portland Police and other police departments across the country is to create a citizen-led council to investigate all of the complaints filed against police officers over the last several years. Those complaints need to be re-investigated and the police officers need to be disciplined and removed who have abused their community.
I understand that being a police officer is a difficult job but it’s also a job where there really isn’t margin for error. For example, if a surgeon botches a surgery and the patient suffers injury or death because of the bad surgery, there isn’t a union of surgeons that protect that surgeon so he can keep working. That surgeon will lose his job. The same sort of standard needs to be held for police officers. If you abuse the community you work for, you need to be fired.
Holding police officers accountable is the first step in repairing relationships between the public and the police. I also think there needs to be more attention paid to officers who go above and beyond the call of duty to help their community. People need to be aware of officers who are behaving exceptionally and those officers need to be rewarded in a public way.
You can fix the police department by disciplining those who need to be disciplined and rewarding those who are exceptional. This stops bad behavior from being rewarded and it stops good behavior from being unacknowledged.
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